'Modernisation of a world-class leisure facility: the next chapter of Manchester Aquatics Centre' by David Spoors
7 September 2023
With rising energy costs and heightened appreciation of the benefits of an active lifestyle post-Covid, sports facilities are under growing pressure to support their surrounding communities while finding ways of increasing efficiencies and lowering their reliance on more traditional fossil fuel-based energy sources. This pressure is being felt at both a local and national level, with local authorities pledging their support for net zero carbon and lowering their own energy costs, so too leisure operators are being charged with bringing some of the largest and most prestigious facilities in the country up to scratch. One such facility we've worked extensively on, now having completed phase 1 of the refurbishment work, is the Manchester Aquatics Centre (MAC).
Purpose-built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games incorporating an Olympic-sized 50m pool and 25m diving pool, MAC is the country's busiest swimming pool with an estimated 500,000 visitors per year. Following two decades of heavy use the facility, owned by Manchester City Council in association with Manchester Metropolitan University and The University of Manchester, needed significant modernisation.
Starting in late 2019, the project has seen a few challenges, namely the design and construction phases being affected by the pandemic, construction material costs and supply issues changing on an almost daily basis, and spiralling energy costs. Overcoming these, the project team has worked extremely well together to bring the 24-year-old building up to date.
The largest proportion of the construction costs, as with most refurbishment projects of sports facilities of this nature, was spent on mechanical and electrical works: removing and replacing out-dated and end-of-life appliances with more energy efficient modern fittings. Alongside this, Manchester City Council and MCRActive saw the potential to combine necessary replacement of kit with upgrades to the building’s facilities and a reorganisation of the spaces within the centre. The original building had been adapted over the years to suit the changing leisure appetite of its users, which ultimately resulted in a fractured organisation of spaces which reduced the Centre’s ability to make use of the many facilities it offered.
Following recent completion of phase 1, the building now accommodates all fitness and functional equipment on the first floor, linked closely with upgraded changing facilities and increased provision for visitors and customers in most need. The ground floor enjoys an upgraded and high-end quality feel for public facilities, including refurbished wet change, spa and main pool hall, plus a more efficient café and servery with a modern and airy aesthetic showing off the building's skeleton previously concealed. The basement plant spaces have been extensively worked on, with almost all kit replaced giving the Centre a new lease of life for decades to come.
At the beginning of any refurbishment project, and a requirement even more so in today's economic and social climate, a cost benefit analysis of proposed works to the building and the facilities contained within is undertaken. Most importantly in this analysis is the building’s impact on the surrounding environment, both culturally and environmentally. Undertaken at the inception of MAC’s refurbishment, this entailed an assessment of the existing asset, including where it performs well and where it does not. Areas where energy is wasted or could be better utilised, along with deficiencies in the building fabric, both to external and between internal spaces, are targeted for improvement works. The first step on improving the building’s energy efficiency and ability to continue to accommodate its use should be to improve the performance of the building as a whole, prior to introducing any new more efficient equipment, where these efficiencies may otherwise be lost.
From the outset Manchester City Council saw the benefit of including decarbonisation works within the scope of the project, hence the addition of two large air source heat pumps (ASHP) and the extensive photovoltaic array (1000+ PV panels mounted on the roof). The ASHPs help to reduce the building’s reliance on gas fired boilers to heat water for domestic services plus the three large pools and splashpad, whilst the PV array provides a sustainable energy source for the many fittings and fixtures, whilst also being able to export energy back into the surrounding grid during peak times. Many sports facilities have large, underutilised roofscapes, which can be adapted and used to generate clean efficient sources of energy. Afterall, the same facilities, when containing wet leisure, require large amounts of energy 24/7.
Phase 2, due to start late summer/early autumn after the Centre hosts the 2023 Para Swimming World Championships, will continue the refurbishment work on the 50m training pool in the basement and changing rooms and MAC’s next chapter on the world stage will remain for the foreseeable years ahead.
The building now accommodates all fitness and functional equipment on the first floor, linked closely with upgraded changing facilities and increased provision for visitors and customers in most need. The ground floor enjoys an upgraded and high-end quality feel for public facilities, including refurbished wet change, spa and main pool hall, plus a more efficient café and servery with a modern and airy aesthetic showing off the building's skeleton previously concealed.
David Spoors - Pozzoni